It was no surprise then to see pubs in Central Stockholm here touting Tuesday night's Champions League quarter-final first leg between Barcelona and Paris St Germain to be a contest between local hero Zlatan Ibrahimovic (PSG) and Barca superstar Lionel Messi.
Outside most local pubs here, one thing was common the announcement of the night's big match being telecast there. One pub however went a step further with its marketing as it wrote on the signboard - Zlatan PSG vs Messi Barcelona. Logically, the two players are incomparable. Messi is the better player by miles, while Ibrahimovic at 31, is into the evening of his career.
The fans here, however, refuse to accept this. Zlatan is God to the Swedish people. They worship him here, just like Indians worship Ganesha, Swede Markus Larsson told MiD DAY at the Chill pub in Central Stockholm in between sips of locally manufactured beer Spendrups. Larsson works for a computer firm here that has dealings with an Indian company in Bangalore, which explains his knowledge of Indian Gods.
There were loud cheers with intermittent jeers each time Zlatan touched the ball throughout the encounter between the two teams. The Swedish striker missed loads of chances ” a couple in front of the Barcelona goal but made up for in the 79th minute by scoring to cancel Messi's 38th-minute opening goal. Barca took the lead again 11 minutes from the end, when Xavi converted a penalty. However, Ibrahiovic wasn't done yet. He neatly headed down a ball for teammate Baise Matuide who slotted home seconds before the final whitsle.
Pub manager Makwan, an Iraqi by birth, but Swedish now, told MiD DAY that people love Zlatan for his sheer striking ability. "He's a great finisher and that's exactly what he's done again today. That's why people love him. But Messi has a good following too and there is a decent turnout supporting Barcelona here for him today. "
The Swedes, however, will most probably have the last laugh, as an injured Messi didn't turn up for the second half and may reportedly miss the return leg. Zlatan, who is already a pub-lic hero here, has another chance to cement his position when the two teams clash again at the Nou Camp next week.